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Freshman class


The newest OKC city council members reflect on their first few months on the job.

Tim Farley July 31st, 2013

After 90 days on the job, Oklahoma City’s newest city councilmen have discovered change is slow and public accountability is high.

OKC City Council
Credit: Mark Hancock

Their approaches

James Greiner represents northwest OKC’s Ward 1 while John Pettis Jr. leads the residents of Ward 7, primarily in the city’s northeast section. Both enjoyed landslide victories against incumbents.

The two possess some innocuous similarities. This is their first time to hold public office, both are young and they’re not shy about sharing their strong religious backgrounds.

Other than that, their approaches as elected officials have taken different paths. Greiner, 32, by his own admission, prefers to be the quiet guy who comments sparingly while soaking in all of the staff presentations and his colleagues’ remarks.

“When I say something, it’s pretty precise and not too wordy,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and be a lightning rod and change things up. A lot of the change and work that gets done is behind the scenes, anyway.”

But that reserve doesn’t mean Greiner will just sit passively in his Ward 1 seat.

“So many of the things that have come before the council that I disagreed with had already come so far [in the process],” he said. “I’m figuring out the best ways to handle issues.”

A self-described fiscal conservative who believes in limited government, Greiner said he’ll take a cautious approach when dealing with issues that mix public funds and private-sector interests. For instance, he opposes incentivizing job creation and other economic development efforts with general obligation bond money.

“I don’t like debt in general,” he said. “Whenever I see bond and debt, it immediately brings up red flags in my brain. I haven’t been outspoken about it because it’s already there [from a 2007 bond issue].”


Shooting from the hip
Pettis, on the other hand, has no problem speaking out. The 31-year-old is vocal about the need for a full-size grocery store in Ward 7.

He stops short of saying the issue is race-related.

“The reputation of Ward 7 is not good. The area is predominantly African-American. Businesses may have been afraid to come in, but now we are actively working to get a full-size grocery store,” Pettis said. “I think it’s more perception than anything.”

The councilman also has been outspoken about the lack of public transportation in parts of his ward. During the July 2 city council meeting, Pettis admonished Gary Cox, executive director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, for the agency’s decision to build a new wellness campus at 2600 N.E. 63rd, an area that’s about a mile from the nearest Metro Transit bus line.

“We’re going to have to have some long talks,” Pettis told Cox.

James Greiner
Credit: Mark Hancock

Cox responded that the new facility needed to be in the 73111 zip code, which is considered the unhealthiest in the city.


B.C. — Before Council
Prior to their elections in April, the freshman councilmen were living lives devoid of public scrutiny.

Greiner, a team leader for Hobby Lobby’s graphic design department, is married with three children. Before his victory, he was an 8-to-5 guy.

“I would get home, eat dinner with the family, play with the kids and then put them to bed. That’s been shaken up a little bit since the election, especially the 8-to-5 part,” he said. “I was comfortable staying in the background, but those things are changing because they have to change now.”

Since his election, Greiner said, his eyes have been opened to the realities of big-city politics.

“One of the biggest surprises is how big of a deal it is. We make a lot of important decisions,” he said. “I feel a lot of responsibility and the need to show a lot of respect to the rest of the council. I don’t want to act like I know more than everyone else up there.”

Pettis’ pre-council life was marked by volunteerism and community activism. A desire to help others led him to form the Oklahoma Institute for Minority Affairs, a nonprofit charity designed to assist less fortunate blacks. He also founded Southern Leadership Enhancement Center, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation established Aug. 6, 2008, according to records at the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office.

He has worked as a volunteer with Central Oklahoma Integrated Network System, Inc., which connects uninsured and underinsured patients with necessary medical services. According to Pettis’ city council Facebook page, he is a board member for the Boy Scouts of America-Last Frontier Council, the Rhonda K. Hudson Foundation and the Faith, Hope & Love Missionary Baptist Church in south Oklahoma City.

“I’m passionate about [public service],” he said. “I put in 40 to 50 hours a week on that kind of stuff.”

Such volunteerism apparently has kept Pettis from traditional job experience. He declined to say when he last filed a federal income tax return, or if he has ever filed one. He also would not comment on a report that the council position is his first regular-paying job.

“I covered all that stuff during the council election,” he said. “I’m not trying to hide anything.” Pettis said he receives no income from the nonprofits he founded.

“I’m not making any money off it. I’m trying to change an unjust system,” he said. “I will do some other things in a few years, but for now, I have a supportive family.”

His father, John Pettis Sr., served as El Reno mayor from 1979 to 1984.


Campaign donors
Pettis’ campaign collected a total of $51,800 in cash and in-kind contributions, according to campaign finance records.

John Pettis Jr.
Credit: Mark Hancock

During the reporting period from March 19 to May 2, he received $14,775 in personal contributions and $8,000 from political action committees, including $5,000 from the OKC Firefighters Association-PAC.

Other PACs that contributed to Pettis during that time were the Oklahoma Municipal Contractors

Association, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO. Each gave $1,000 to his campaign war chest.

The largest campaign contributors were Bricktown developers, brothers Brett and Brent Brewer, with total donations of $3,500 and $4,500, respectively.

Notable $1,000 contributors at an April 29 campaign fundraiser hosted by the Bricktown Association included developers Gary Brooks, John Kennedy, Nicholas Preftakes and Mark Ruffin. Walter Gillispie, a certified public accountant who specializes in oil and gas, also donated $1,000 at the fundraiser.

Greiner, meanwhile, received substantially less in his campaign with total contributions of $15,562. He received no PAC money and had only two contributions of $1,000 or more.

His single largest donation of $3,000 came from Dale Phillips, president of Old Surety Life Insurance Company. Greiner’s father, Lee Greiner, gave $1,000, according to campaign finance records.

Records show that all other donations to Greiner ranged from $60 to $700.


What’s compensation for OKC city council members?

All council members receive $1,000 each month. Benefits include health and dental insurance, an iPad, an iPhone, mileage reimbursement and free tickets to city events at any city-owned building, such as the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Cox Convention Center and Civic Center Music Hall. —TF


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